Day 5: They Weren’t Going to Let Us Leave with a Negative Impression.
This is it: Election Day. We’ve been told that this will be an exceptional experience. We will be pushed to the uttermost, they said. I wait in bated breath for our assignment. My feet feel as if they’ve been beaten with a baton for days, but I’m ready and willing to leave it all on the field.
And then it happened. The sun came out, bright and unobstructed by the slightest cirrus cloud. The metaphor augured well and appealed to my sense of narrative. After days of semi-misery, the work was ending and our labor would be rewarded. Our bus passed a fifteen foot high inflated balloon of President Obama controlled by a puppeteer with others holding signs reading “VOTE!” That made it real.
Hearing about the nights party disabuses me of the idea I’ve been given from television–big convention halls, multitudes of Obama supporters, and the possibility of straw boaters. All of those people are at the headquarters. We have options. We can go to one of the staging locations which is BYOB (Plan A), Frederick’s, which has $5 Obamatinis to recommend itself (Plan B), or there’s talk of the Doubletree downtown but we don’t know whether that actually exists (Plan C). My prediction was that my luck would hold and I’d end up at the lamest party of cold cuts, coffee, and a single television with bunny ears.
As we discuss travel plans to and from the party, some of the people on the Blue Bus are dicks (surprise) who think that things are fair or unfair about timing. Even when they were told that the later we’re picked up, the later we leave (because of Dave’s required eight hours off the road) they are unremitting.
“I just don’t think it’s fair,” said one, “that we do all this work and we don’t even get to see the returns.”
“That’s not what we’re saying,” Craig replied, “we’re just saying that after a certain time, you have to make other arrangements to wherever you’re sleeping.”
“I think there should be a vote,” says another. We had arrived at my staging location and I bound out the door so that I don’t have to listen to any more of this nonsense.
Our job today is to make three passes on the same house. If no one answers, we tag them with a sticker telling them the times available for voting and the ID requirements. If they say they’ve voted, we don’t return. If they say that will vote, we return to make sure they made the trip. If no one answers again, we again return.
The vast majority of people we talk to had already voted that morning or sometime previously. On a second pass, one voter is noted as not voting because “no ID.” I knock on this door and tell him that he didn’t need a photo ID, but only required a piece of mail or identification that gave his name and address (the Ohio requirements). Judy, a volunteer who had been working the office until the last shift, when she and Jon went out to canvass, later told me that she talked to this person and he said that he went out and voted. That’s gratifying.
We work until the lights go out around 6:00pm and marshal at the staging location. The plan is settled. We’re going to Frederick’s to eat, drink, and be merry and wait for further information on the state of the other parties. A local volunteer agreed to drive us to Fredericks (about five minutes away), so eleven of us pile into her van somewhere around 7:30pm.
At Fredericks, there were plenty of people already arrived and reveling, but we were able to push enough tables together for all of us, though those chairs with backs to the television remained occupied only briefly. All four televisions were set to MSNBC. It’s going to be that kind of night. We could hardly hear the comments over the chatter and Josh has entered an emotional state unseen until now: feverish. What he needed was 1984-style (or is it A Clockwork Orange?) inundation of information and commentary.
We’d heard that somewhere in Pennsylvania, electronic voting booths were switching the candidates such that if you pressed “Obama” it would tick the “Romney” box. Ominous. Numbers came in from much of the East Coast and obvious states like Vermont, Kentucky, and Mississippi were called as soon as the polls closed. Those less familiar with the concept of time zones became concerned that Romney has jumped out to a 33 to 3 “lead” in the Electoral College. When they called Pennsylvania for Obama, however, it was a madhouse.
As the night wore on and people drank more Obamatinis, their attention was split slowly between their iPhones or BlackBerries and the television. They called the election for Sherrod Brown and I was the first to see it, left alone to whoop pathetically. What they lacked in speed of observation, they made up for with enthusiasm.
“We built that!” Adam shouts.
Obama picked up the usual suspects as well as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Also called were the Senate races that went our way in virtually every close race, including Indiana, Montana, and Massachusetts. Each slowly realized, but resulting in massive cheers. Then, of course, the West Coast came in and, in a second, the numbers looked incredibly daunting for Romney. If we were less caught up in the moment, we would have calmly done the math beforehand, but as it was, we took every victory on its face.
Then, at 11:11pm, MSNBC projected that President Obama had been re-elected to another term. All fists hit the sky followed by cries of delight. Hugs, kisses, and high-fives were shared by those according to their sense of propriety. After a few seconds, when I let myself into the moment, I felt a wave of understanding. Four more years of an Obama presidency. The specter of losing the White House to someone I highly distrusted and disliked was lifted. The majority of Americans made what I believed to be the right decision. They saw the President as someone worthy of another term. It was like slipping into a warm bath.
A tearful Adam came up to me and said the most profound thing I had heard in months.
“We aren’t 19 year old kids,” he said, “we took five days out of our lives, out of work, and did what we felt we needed to to make this happen. If you said we could do this after Citizens United, I wouldn’t have believed it. That is the truth and power of speech and the people. We make our own history!”
We won. It wasn’t about the money. Money can only buy what we do not give freely. So long as there is a group of people dedicated to the truth as they see it and willing to fight those that lie for their own purposes, we have nothing to fear from money. “The best answer to bad speech is more speech.”
The DJ gave a shout out to us as the New Yorkers who came to Cleveland to get the President elected. Everyone treated us as though we delivered it for them. The DJ played “Empire State of Mind.” I wish I had a video camera to capture the moment. Everyone was alive with joy. Judy was dancing her heart out with Clevelander strangers when moments ago she told us how she doesn’t often “hang out.” Tears in their eyes, relief in their shoulders, everyone is so damned pleased. It was a moment so poignant that I cannot possibly do it justice.
The New Yorkers are summoned to a stage in the back where we are photographed by the locals as if we’re an exhibit at the zoo. Perhaps “stars on the red carpet” is more a generous description. My inability to get caught up in group feeling reasserts itself and I go quiet. Josh and Bethel go back to their iPhones for a moment and then get on the dance floor. After that, the DJ exhausted every New York-related song in his catalog.
The bus had been organized to pick us up within the next couple of minutes. That turned out to be an ambitious estimate. We were able to watch all of Romney’s concession speech—met by ecstatic cheers since we had been told that Romney may push for an Ohio recount—and start to hope that we might see the President’s victory speech. As seems always the case, the bus came about ten minutes before Obama would speak. Bethel was going straight to the airport later, so she, Josh and those who would take their chances with the taxis stayed behind.
Josh, et. al. didn’t end up having to get a taxi. When festivities drew to a close and they asked about the number for a taxi, one of them said, “Are you serious? You don’t need a taxi. We’re taking you home.” Josh said to me later, “They weren’t going to let us leave with a bad impression.” Frederick’s was the best possible place in the world to watch the election results come in. In Warrensville Heights, we had annoyed them for days and they loved us for it.